All about the Big 12: Baylor must rebound quickly

Kansas made it through its back-to-back Missouri-Baylor gantlet with a 1-1 mark. Now Baylor is trying to go 1-1 in its Kansas-Mizzou gantlet.

Jeff Withey again torched Baylor, scoring 25 points to lead Kansas on Wednesday.
(US Presswire)

The Jayhawks beat Baylor 68-54 Wednesday night in a game that wasn’t that close. The victory helped KU remain tied with Missouri – who edged the Jayhawks on Saturday – atop the Big 12. Kansas still hasn’t lost consecutive games since January 2006. Now, Baylor – which is a game behind the co-leaders – travels to Missouri on Saturday knowing that a loss almost certainly ends its league title hopes.

“I thought Kansas did a tremendous job bouncing back after the tough game with Missouri, and we were talking with our team and we need to do the exact same thing come this Saturday,” Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters after the game.

Bad news for the Bears: When they faced Kansas and Missouri back-to-back in January, they lost both.

“We lost to Missouri and KU last time and we bounced back up, and if we didn’t have four good games, we wouldn’t have been in this position,” Drew said. “The disappointing part is we did have an opportunity to do something special. First of all, defend home court. Second of all, have a chance to help us take a major step toward winning the conference championship, and that’s the most disappointing thing.”

Wednesday’s loss did snap Baylor’s four-game winning streak. But what should make Drew uneasy is that the four games following the first Kansas-Mizzou quiniela were easier than the ones following this KU-Mizzou double-up.

Monday night, the Bears play host to Iowa State, followed five days later by a home game against Kansas State; both those teams need more “good” wins to bolster their NCAA at-large hopes. Then come a road game at Texas and a home game vs. Oklahoma.

Baylor is a lock to earn just its seventh NCAA bid; the question is where the Bears will be seeded. Going into Wednesday’s game, a No. 1 seed didn’t look out of the question; while it’s always dangerous to read too much into one game, they sure didn’t play like a No. 1 seed against KU, and a loss Saturday likely ends those hopes. Still, Baylor never has been seeded better than a No. 3, and the Bears look as if they will at least match that.

What should worry Drew is the disappearing act turned in by sophomore forward Perry Jones III, the Bears’ most talented player. He scored on an alley-oop dunk for the first points of the game Wednesday night, but didn’t score again. He is averaging 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season, but in his three games this season against Kansas and Mizzou, those numbers are 9.3 and 4.0, respectively. If he plays to those numbers Saturday at Missouri, the Bears have no shot.

Baylor’s frontcourt defense also was lacking. KU big men Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey dominated in the paint, combining for 40 points and 16 rebounds. Withey, a junior, had a career-high 25 points after being held scoreless in 23 minutes against Missouri.

“I don’t know why Withey likes playing against us so much, but he looks like an All-American every time he does,” Drew said.

Withey had 10 points and 10 rebounds in KU’s first win over Baylor this season; that is one of his four double-doubles. The others have come against Duke, Long Beach State and Iowa State.

Kansas, meanwhile, has to like where it stands. It has seven games left, and only two appear dangerous: at Kansas State on Monday night and a visit from Missouri on Feb. 25. Kansas has lost two or fewer league games in each of the past three seasons, and has won at least a portion of the conference title for seven consecutive seasons.

“The loss Saturday … the kids put a lot into that. And to play so good and come up empty is obviously deflating, but these guys really showed me something,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said after Wednesday’s win. “I thought we may pout up and feel a little sorry for ourselves, and we didn’t. We showed some toughness. … That was pretty impressive.”

The victory improved Kansas to 17-2 against Baylor in Big 12 play.

[NCAA forecast: Kansas takes aim at No. 1 seed in tournament field of 68]

3 to watch

Baylor at Missouri, Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 syndication/Altitude2/ESPN FullCourt: Baylor comes in off the beatdown at the hands of Kansas. Mizzou won by one in Waco on Jan. 21. Mizzou’s senior class has 99 wins, one away from matching the school’s four-year win mark (100) set from 1980-83. The senior class also is 64-3 at home.

Iowa State at Baylor, Monday, 7 p.m., ESPNU: The tough schedule continues for the Bears. Iowa State lost a bit of momentum when it fell at Oklahoma State on Tuesday. The teams meet again in Ames in the regular-season finale March 3.

Kansas at Kansas State, Monday, 9 p.m., ESPN: KU has Oklahoma State on Saturday, then makes the trip to Manhattan two days later. The Jayhawks hammered K-State by 18 in Lawrence on Jan. 4. K-State is in the midst of a season-making stretch; the Wildcats are at Texas on Saturday, play host to the Jayhawks on Monday, go on the road to take on Baylor on Feb. 18 and Missouri on Feb. 21, then welcome in Iowa State on Feb. 25.

Who’s hot?

Marcus Denmon has gotten back on track in his last two games, scoring 54 points.
(US Presswire)

Missouri G Marcus Denmon.: In his past two games, Denmon has been extremely sharp. He had a poor outing in a one-point win over Texas on Jan. 30, scoring just six points on 3-of-12 shooting. But in wins over Kansas and Oklahoma, he totaled 54 points and was 19-of-32 from the floor (59.4 percent), including 10-of-18 from 3-point range (55.6 percent).

Texas G J’Covan Brown: He is averaging 22.3 points and 4.5 assists over the past four games. He had 20 points and was 4-of-4 from 3-point range in Monday’s win over Texas A&M.

Oklahoma State G Markel Brown: In his past four games, he is averaging 18.8 points, a far cry from his season average of 10.3. He has added 24 rebounds, shot 54.5 percent from the floor and gone 21-of-21 from the line in that span.

Who’s not?

Missouri G Kim English: He is the Tigers’ second-leading scorer at 14.0 points per game but hasn’t scored in double-figures in back-to-back games since Jan. 11 and 14. He has averaged 11.7 points in the past seven games and that includes a 22-point outing in a win over Texas Tech on Jan. 28. He has shot 43.8 percent in those contests and is at 50.7 percent for the season.

Kansas State F Jamar Samuels: He has scored in double figures just once in the past five games and managed just 29 total points in those contests. He committed 16 fouls and made 10 baskets in those five games.

Texas Tech:.The Red Raiders are the only winless team in league play in any of the Big Six conferences; they haven’t won a game in this calendar year. Tech is averaging 53.5 points and shooting 37.7 percent from the floor in league games. The Red Raiders have 82 more turnovers than assists in conference action.

[ Pat Forde: Another case for Kentucky Wildcats as nation’s best college hoops team ]

Good win last week

Kansas 68, Baylor 54. The Jayhawks followed up a tough loss at Missouri on Saturday by thrashing the Bears in Waco on Wednesday. The win snapped KU’s two-game road losing streak and was the Jayhawks’ fourth RPI top-25 win of the season.

Bad loss last week

Oklahoma State 69, Iowa State 67. This certainly isn’t a truly bad loss, but the Cyclones had a shot at the road win and didn’t make the needed plays down the stretch. They’re 7-4 in league play and still have two games left with Baylor as well as road trips to Kansas State and Missouri.

Numbers game

Iowa State already has three conference road wins, the most for the Cyclones since the 2005 season. The seven Big 12 wins overall is the highest total for the Cyclones since they had nine victories in the 2004-05 season.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Feb 9, 2012